Monash University

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Servant leadership in organizations : a cross-national study.

posted on 2017-02-28, 01:00 authored by Chin, David Teckleong
The primary purpose of the study is to gain a clearer understanding of the phenomenon of servant leadership through the analysis of historical and contemporary empirical data. The study was prompted by recent reports of leadership practices in progressive organizations from leading economies where the traditional way of leading by command and control i.e. the authoritarian type of leadership, is giving way to a more humane and inclusive form of leadership. "Servant leadership" describes leaders who desire to serve others above their self-¬interest in an atmosphere of love, trust, humility, integrity, and exemplary conduct. First, a qualitative examination of the attributes of historical servant leaders was carried out to identify the key attributes of servant leaders. Second, an empirical study was conducted of 10 contemporary organizational leaders and 51 of their subordinates in Australia and Malaysia, in which servant leaders were identified using the criteria emerging from the historical study. Finally, the nature of servant leadership in Australia and Malaysia was compared, to contribute to the cross-¬cultural investigation of the universality of servant leadership. Case study methodology was applied and Grounded Theory used in data analysis. This study is groundbreaking in the sense that for the first time the understanding of servant leadership is drawn from its actual practice found in eminent historical servant leaders and then compared between the West (as in Australia) and the East (as in Malaysia). The background of all the leaders studied varies in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, and type of organizations led. The themes that emerge from the study of historical servant leaders and organizational servant leaders are virtuous motives, personality attributes, beliefs and values, and enhanced relationships with others. There are a total of 20-25 categories organized under these four themes. The historical and organizational models are identical in the themes and only show fractional variations in the categories. This is due to the limited data collection in the case of historical servant leaders and the difference in focus between historical (social goals) and organizational (organizational goals) servant leaders. However, both the Australian and Malaysian organizational servant leadership models are congruent. These results suggest that servant leadership occurs as a universal phenomenon and is not influenced by national culture, organizational culture, and demographic factors. Future research directions are to broaden the study to more countries in order to strengthen the proposition of universality in servant leadership, and to strengthen the proposition of servant leadership effectiveness by investigating its longer term impact on organizational achievements in comparison to other leadership types, by employing longitudinal study methods. The implications for management involve shifting from the present leadership paradigms of non-servant leadership to the acclaimed practice of servant leadership. Such implications are the reality of spirituality in the workplace, managers connecting humanely with their employees, managing and leading by serving others with humility, and managers engendering trust in workers through servant leadership.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Wendy Anne Smith

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics